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Recap: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Winnipeg Jets

Feb 10, 2024; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Winnipeg Jets forward Sean Monahan (23) shoots wide of Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry (35) during the third period at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Just noticed that I passed a milestone of my own recently, as this is my 102nd article for Arctic Ice Hockey since coming aboard at the start of the season. Looking like I should break the 200 mark in my rookie season….not too bad at all 🙂

With the losses pilling up and the Winnipeg Jets being constantly reminded of last year’s second half collapse, they were hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday evening at the Canada Life Centre. Let’s find out what type of game Winnipeg played after their season-worst performance in their last game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Our home team started the game uncharacteristically, coming out of the gates with good energy and causing Pittsburgh problems with constant forechecking. The Penguins did get a great chance when Stanley’s pass was intercepted in the defensive zone, only for Hellebuyck to shut down the slot opportunity with a flashed glove. Winnipeg was rewarded with scoring chances as a result of their intensity, netting a bunch of 2 on 1’s in the opening minutes. Unfortunately, the first two of them ended with no shots on Jarry due to uncompleted passes, but that changed when Ehlers intercepted a pass in the defensive zone. The speedy winger flew down the ice and for once the Jets were able to connect on a 2 on 1 pass, allowing Scheifele to one time a blast by the Penguins’ goaltender to give the Jets a lead at the mid-point of period. Winnipeg almost added to their lead when a 4th line cycle saw Iafallo being stoned on a net-front look, but Hellebuyck was still called on occasionally to make a big save (Harkins gets a break due to a turnover, but Bucky sticks out a toe to deny the chance). A few minutes later, the Lowry line was on the cycle in the Pens’ zone and the puck worked its way back to Schmidt at the point. The Yankee defender’s shot was well off the mark, but it allowed Niederreiter to corral the rebound off the backboards and jam it by the goalie to give Winnipeg a rare 2-0 first period lead.

First Period MoneyPuck Stats:  Score: 2 to 0 for the Jets, shots 13 to 8 for the Jets, 74.5% Deserve To Win for the Jets, Expected Goals – all situations (1.39-0.41 WPG), & 5 on 5 (1.39-0.41 WPG)

With their best period in a while under their belts, the Jets came out skating early in the second but a stupid play by Stanley saw the big defender flagged for interference. While Winnipeg did a great job on the kill, allowing only one long shot against, but the man-advantage seemed to tilt momentum in Pittsburgh’s favour. The Pens had some great looks to get back in the game (Bucky denies 2 shots from in tight and then ends a rush with a timely pokecheck), while the Jets countered when Appleton & Niederreiter were in all alone on Jarry, but the Swiss winger couldn’t find a way through the tender’s pads. Pittsburgh was back on the powerplay when Stanley went back to the box (this time on a highly questionable roughing penalty), but once again Winnipeg limited the PP to 1 shot. The Penguins continued to press for an opening goal, but Hellebuyck continued to stump them (flashes glove off a slot shot & stops Guentzel from prime scoring area, plus 2 rebounds). The visitors finally solved Bucky when a Karlsson point shot was deflected by Rust, despite Appleton being all over his back, sending the puck into Winnipeg’s net to make the game 2-1 with 6 minutes to play. The Jets did get a couple looks before the period ended (beauty play by Ehlers to spin and set up Connor for a quality 1 timer/Perfetti 1 timer after a long cycle by the Monahan line), but Hellebuyck was also called on to keep the slim lead (great cross-crease save on a Rust chance from the low slot).

After Two Periods MoneyPuck Stats:  Score: 2 to 1 for the Jets, shots 24 to 20 for the Penguins, 70% Deserve to Win for the Penguins, Expected Goals – all situations (3.04-1.76 PIT) & 5 on 5 (2.60-1.71 PIT)

After allowing Pittsburgh to totally flip the game in the 2nd period, Winnipeg tried to tighten things up in the 3rd frame. As the Pens pushed for the equalizer, the Jets had their counter-attack opportunities to seal the game (Ehlers sets up Scheifele for a 1 timer that came close, a low slot attempt by Fly, then another glorious chance for the Dane after a Connor pass, & Lowry almost pouncing on a rebound from a Niederreiter deflection). Winnipeg was doing a better job of clogging up the neutral zone in the final frame, but Pitt was still able to create chances (great move by Smith to try scoring a goal between his own legs & another Bucky save off a defensive zone face-off loss). The officials got involved again with another bad call, this time sending Schmidt to the box for interference to give the Pens their 3rd straight man-advantage. The Jets did great for the opening minute but the visitors eventually got set up and Hellebuyck’s glove stopped Rust from tying the game. Monahan won the next face-off and he cleared the puck before chasing after it. The center stole the puck back in the neutral zone and was off a breakaway, faking a slapshot from the mid-slot before snapping a shot off the crossbar (inches away from his 3rd short-handed goal of the season). With 5 minutes to play, the officials decided that they must call a highstick penalty on Malkin after completely blowing a too many men call on the Penguins. Winnipeg’s anemic PP came on to the ice and at least fans could hope that meant Hellebuyck wouldn’t have to make any saves in the next 2 minutes, as a goal with the man-advantage is too much to ask of this team. The Jets did a very good job after the powerplay to limit chances against, even spending half of the time in the offensive zone and getting a couple chances to seal the game (Perfetti from prime slot territory and Iafallo with the goalie down & out missing the net by almost a foot). Pittsburgh was finally able to pull the goalie for the last minute, but despite offensive zone time they weren’t really able to test Bucky again.

After Three Periods MoneyPuck Stats:  50.8% Deserve to Win for the Penguins, Expected Goals – all situations (3.24-2.91 PIT) & 5 on 5 (3.15-2.76 PIT)

FINAL SCORE:  WINNIPEG JETS  2   PITTSBURGH PENGUINS  1 

SHOTS: PITTSBURGH PENGUINS  36  WINNIPEG JETS  31

Game Observations:

  • This game’s first star was clearly Connor Hellebuyck. The Vezina candidate turned aside 35 shots and posted a .972 save percentage to single-handedly end Winnipeg’s losing streak.
  • A sighting of the early season Jets dominance was visible in the first period tonight, a great sign for fans of the Winnipeg franchise. At least it means they still have it in them. The second period was totally awful, but the third was pretty much equal (though the Jets were still giving up too many prime area shots).
  • The Penguins were undefeated in the 2nd game of back-to-back situations this season and the Jets gave them their first loss in 7 attempts.
  • I am still liking the effort I see on both sides of the puck by Mark Scheifele this season. While he is a big part of Winnipeg’s offense, captain Adam Lowry is the team’s heart & soul. The big guy played another hard game, getting under the skin of Sidney Crosby enough to draw a post-horn cross-check from the future Hall of Famer.
  • Nikolaj Ehlers did the most with his promotion to the top line, despite a few unnecessary high-risk passes. The Dane led the team in shots (6) and was a big part in many of Winnipeg’s scoring chances. Not sure how he didn’t net one in the third period, as his speed created a bunch of looks on counter-attacks.
  • Another rough night at the dot, as the Jets only won 39.5% of draws. Sean Monahan did his job by being the only center who won more than he lost (8 out of 13) and he was a crossbar away from scoring his 1st goal for Winnipeg.
  • Dylan Samberg continues to be a blocking machine, adding 4 more to his total against the Penguins. The American defender has done fairly well stepping into the skates of the suspended Brenden Dillon.
  • In case my game recap leads you to believe I thought Logan Stanley had an awful game, let me say that the big guy was good on the penalty kill and showed an unusual amount of physicality with his play. I like that, but you have to be smart about it. Stanley’s first penalty occurred when he opted to be physical with the puck miles away from the Penguins player…you just can’t give opponents powerplays unnecessarily when your team is having a hard time scoring goals.
  • One final rant….is it not time to do something about the powerplay? In the past 10 games, Winnipeg has gone a pathetic 1 for 31 and the team has to make some changes. It’s unlikely that the franchise will add a new player to spark the PP units, so it’s up to strategy and coaching. Brad Lauer is obviously not getting it done with 50 games played, so if management doesn’t want to fire him, at least hire a powerplay specialist coach to spice things up. There is no salary cap for the coaching staff, so if ownership really believes in this team, dig into those deep pockets and hire someone who can get the most out of the Jets’ offensive players.

A win is a win, right? There were some good signs against Pittsburgh that the team could build on, but the coaching staff may consider inserting some new blood in every once in a while because some of the bottom-six are struggling offensively lately.

NEXT GAME: San Jose Sharks @ Winnipeg Jets – Wednesday, February 14th @ 6:30 pm Central

On to the Manitoba Moose…Brad Lambert scored a PP goal (his 14th goal of this year) in the 3rd period to tie the Moose’s game with Grand Rapids, ending his first 3 game without a point streak of his AHL season. Yesterday’s match went to 10 shoot-out rounds, but Manitoba ended up losing. This time, Reichel ended up winning it for the Moose in the 7th shootout round tonight.

Thomas Milic has been stellar since being recalled from Norfolk.  He is 4-1-1 in the 6 games he has played and all but one had a .920+ save percentage. Goals against averages between 1.01 and 2.78 in those games. Seems very solid on breakaways, as he was in net for both marathon shoot-outs against the Griffins.

Manitoba has been hot lately and may make a late charge for a playoff spot. 5 of 7 teams make it from the AHL’s Central Division.  The 4th and 5th get a mini play-in series to see who faces the top team, while the 2nd & 3rd clash (typically where Manitoba finished while I’ve been watching them). Right now, Manitoba sits in 6th, one point up on the Iowa Wild and one point down on the Chicago Wolves.  The 4th place Rockford IceHogs may also be catchable, but no way the Moose can break into the top 3 this year.

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